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100 Days of Vols #48: Win Your Division, Son

Back in the hearty days of 2007, men were men, boys were boys, and if you didn't win your division at least you weren't making the title game. Poor, poor Georgia. If they only hadn't gotten their head pounded in by the Vols on national TV.

Good job, good effort.
Good job, good effort.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

2007 was weird, man. Real weird. We know this, Still, for posterity's sake, here's some of the fun:

  • Appalachian State, Michigan, Big House, season opener, 34-32 App State. (Michigan ended the season by beating Tim Tebow and/or the rest of the Gators, lest we forget.)
  • From Week 6 to Week Week 14, the #2 ranked team in the country went 2-7. Boston College went 1-1, LSU went 1-0, and USC, Cal (yes, the same Cal that Tennessee lost to in Berkeley to open the season), South Florida, Oregon, Kansas, and West Virginia all went 0-1 in that time frame.
  • The teams those teams lost to: Stanford (4-8, beat USC as a 41-point underdog), Oregon State (9-4, beat Cal), Rutgers (8-5, beat South Florida), Arizona (went 5-7, beat Oregon), Missouri (12-2, beat Kansas), Pittsburgh (5-7, beat WVU). There was indignation that Mizzou (yes, that Mizzou) didn't make a BCS bowl.
  • Teams that made the top 10 we haven't talked about: Kentucky (twice, was ranked higher than South Carolina and Florida before playing them), Arizona State (who picked up a 1st place vote in Week 7), and Hawaii.
  • LSU failed to lose a game in regulation and went down as the only BCS champ (to date?) with two losses.
Oh, and while we're here: Tennessee won the SEC East after ricocheting around the lower half of the Top 25 for most of the season in what turned out to be Phil Fulmer's last hurrah for all intents and purposes, before line swtiching came to kill us all. This was Erik Ainge's senior year, Arian Foster's junior year, and David Cutcliffe making magic happen from upstairs. (This, quite frankly, wasn't John Chavis' best year, but he made up for it in 2008.)

Tennessee came into the Georgia game at a relatively lackluster 2-2 with a couple of uninspiring wins (Southern Miss, Arkansas State) and a couple of bad-to-horrid losses (that Cal game and a 59-20 pasting at the hands of Florida). Georgia was in a bit better shape at 4-1 with a couple of conference wins against Ole Miss and at Alabama (this was the year 'Bama lost to ULM, a fact I'll happily dwell on because it means I don't have to think about 2008-2012 'Bama) and their customary early-season loss to South Carolina in their also-customary let's forget how to offense way. Still, that was enough to make the game a virtual toss-up coming into a 3:30 kickoff with Uncle Verne calling the game.

Once the game kicked off, we learned something real fast: only one team, um, remembered there was a game. Georgia opened with a three-and-out, Foster and Lamarcus Coker rolled their way to a TD on the opening drive, Georgia proceeded to get nothing going, and, the clock rolled to the 2nd quarter. Then things got absurd.

Lucas Tayor hit Coker on a 56-yard TD pass (yeah, that's a trick play, as you do). 14-0. Three and out. Montario Hardesty rushing TD. 21-0. Three and out. Arian Foster rushing TD. 28-0. Finally, with about 2 minutes to go in the first half, Georgia - by some miracle - finally got a first down.

Not surprisingly, Tennessee sat on the lead after halftime, forcing Georgia into extended drives and tacking on a 13-play, 65-yard TD drive (Foster rushing TD), going 2-3 on third down and 1-1 on fourth down on that drive alone. When the final whistle sounded: 35-14, Vols, and new life in the SEC race.

It'd be remiss of me to fail to note that this win came on the backs of a solid rushing attack - 190 yards on 44 carries, 35:06 time of possession (if you're into that kind of thing), and while Ainge didn't have a bad game (17/22, 165 yards), it wasn't that explosive. Then again, Ainge didn't need to be, as you do when your top 2 RBs go for 164 yards and 4 TD. Defensively, this was arguably the game of the season.

Okay, so let's reset a bit: at this point, Georgia's sitting on two conference losses, Florida - who has the tiebreaker over Tennessee at this point in theory - also has two losses, and Tennessee - who has the tiebreaker over Georgia - has one loss. The week of October 13th, everyone wins, Tennessee's still in the driver's seat. Third Week in October? Tennessee gets rolled, Florida wins, Georgia's off; welcome to the weird three-way tie that I think UF technically led (no in-division losses).

That next week, Tennessee rebounds with a close win over South Carolina and this happens in Jacksonville. Georgia at this point has all the momentum, which in this case counted for absolutely nothing since Tennessee - you guessed it - owned the tiebreak.

Of course, you know how the rest goes; Tennessee wins out (including this nail-biter - fun side note: I had a brilliant idea to live-blog this game. That lasted until the 2nd OT, when my notes devolved from a series of coherent observations into a tangled mess of bad penmanship and dried sweat), Georgia wins out, Georgia is convinced they deserve a shot at the BCS, Tennessee fans point to the scoreboard, Tennessee wins the SEC East, everyone blacks out for a month, and Tennessee beats Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. (ahem.)

Personally, I'm not sure what was more fun: beating Georgia soundly (again, I might add), winning the SEC East, or running backwards while Georgia fans were clamoring for a berth in the title game because of, something, I suppose. I mean, back in that day you couldn't win a national championship, much less play for one, without winning your division at a minimum. It'd be one thing if the game was close, but ...honestly? Y'all show up and we'll talk.

I don't know what it means when some of the most fun games I've seen involve beating the tar out of Georgia (including Georgia's secondary allowing a plastic bag to pull in 7 catches for 130 yards in 2009), but hey. 2007 was a strange year for everyone else. For us? Nah. We were used to winning in the SEC. Wasn't no big deal.